Tigers Knee Still a Problem

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Tiger Woods missed two months while recovering from knee surgery and then won three of his first four tournaments, including a five-day marathon at the Match Play Championship and an 11-stroke victory at Bay Hill.
 
The left knee didn't affect his game in February and March, and it's unlikely a sore knee is the reason he has finished over par in the first two majors for the first time since 1999.
 
The impact could be in his practice sessions.
 
Few people work harder than Woods on the range, but he said while cleaning out his locker at Olympia Fields that he has scaled back this year.
 
'I don't hit balls for four to five hours like I used to,' Woods said.
 
He also isn't playing as much.
 
Knee surgery caused him to miss the Mercedes Championships and Pebble Beach (although he was planning to skip Pebble because of the bumpy greens), and Woods dropped out of Dubai because of war-related concerns.
 
As for the state of his knee? 'I'm not quite there yet,' he said. 'That's why I don't play much. You have to look at the big picture and make sure everything is sound so you can go the long haul.'
 
MASTERS TICKETS GET PRICE INCREASE FOR 2004
 
Tickets for practice rounds at the Masters are going up by $10 next year, although the price is still as much a bargain as the $1.25 for pimiento cheese sandwiches.
 
Tickets for Monday and Tuesday rounds will increase to $31, while tickets for Wednesday, which includes the Par 3 Tournament, will increase to $36.
 
Augusta National Golf Club has not decided whether to increase its weekly badge for the tournament rounds, which last year was $125.
 
Club spokesman Glenn Greenspan said the ticket increase is not related to the Masters going without television sponsors for the second straight year.
 
'Every three or four years we do this,' Greenspan said.
 
Ticket prices have increased only twice in the last 10 years, the last time in 2001.
 
'Our major concern is value for our patrons, and we still think our tickets are a great value,' Greenspan said.
 
Practice round tickets are awarded through a lottery system. Applications can be obtained from the club; the deadline is July 15.
 
THE MAGIC DATE
 
Looking for the favorite at the British Open? Start checking birth certificates.
 
Masters champion Mike Weir and U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk have more in common than winning their first major this year. Both were born on May 12, 1970 -- Weir in Sarnia, Ontario, Furyk in West Chester, Pa.
 
Another significant occurrence that day: Ernie Banks hit his 500th home run at Wrigley Field to lead the Cubs to a 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
 
If the magic is in the year, that can only help Phil Mickelson (June 16, 1970).
 
CHICAGO RETURN FOR MAHAN
 
The next time Hunter Mahan returns to Chicago, he'll be playing for money.
 
Mahan, the runner-up at the U.S. Amateur, turned professional after missing the cut in the U.S. Open at 6-over par. He plans to play the Western Open, where he received the first of seven sponsor's exemptions in his bid to earn enough money to get his PGA Tour card.
 
If not, he advances to the second stage of Q-school because he made the cut at a major, tying for 28th in the Masters.
 
'If I go to Q-school and can get through that second stage, I'll at least have a place to play next year,' Mahan said.
 
PUZZLED HOCH TAKING TIME OFF
 
Scott Hoch missed the cut four weeks in a row for the first time in his career, then decided to take three weeks off to figure out what was happening.
 
It didn't help.
 
He missed the cut at the Capital Open and the U.S. Open, running his streak to six. Next up for Hoch -- maybe nothing until the PGA Championship.
 
'I might be off indefinitely,' he said. 'There's no point.'
 
Hoch, who won at Doral in a playoff over Jim Furyk, had hand problems earlier in the year that haven't gone away. The pain is at the base of where the thumb and index finger meet, and he says it gets weak at the top of his swing.
 
What about the British Open?
 
'I lost the entry,' Hoch said with a smile.
 
FASTH NOT HAVING A BALL
 
For Niclas Fasth of Sweden, it was in with the new, but not quite out with the old at the U.S. Open.
 
Fasth switched to the new Callaway Black Hx Tour ball at Olympia Fields, but when he got to the par-3 seventh green, his 16th hole of the first round, he realized he had teed off with the Hx Tour Red.
 
Players must use the same model of golf ball for the entire round.
 
'Unfortunately, there was an old one left in the bag that came out,' Fasth said. 'I realized it when I marked my ball, and gave myself a two-stroke penalty.'
 
That turned his 73 into a 75.
 
DUVAL DOINGS
 
David Duval was in no mood to talk after missing the cut for the 10th time in 13 stroke-play events this year.
 
Having spent the last month working with David Leadbetter, Duval says his game is getting closer. His only beef is with reporters who question his desire or work ethic without seeing the amount of time he spends on the practice range.
 
'I'm out there pursuing excellence,' Duval told ESPN. 'And I have a hard time explaining that to those who aren't.'
 
DIVOTS
 
Bethpage Black will be included in the newest version of 'Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004,' due out in September from EA Sports. Woods was the only player to finish under par at Bethpage Black, winning the U.S. Open last year by three shots. ... The Royal & Ancient Golf Club said there are 2,150 entries for the British Open, similar to the number last year. ... Trip Kuehne kept driving distance in the family last week. He led the U.S. Open with an average 325.6 yards off the tee. Younger brother Hank, who didn't qualify for Olympia Fields, leads the PGA Tour in driving distance at 314.8 yards.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
 
In the last three tournaments Jim Furyk won -- U.S. Open, '02 Memorial and '01 Mercedes Championships -- Tiger Woods was the defending champion.
 
FINAL WORD
 
'It's like comparing the old Astrodome to Fenway Park.' -- Tiger Woods, on the differences between Bethpage Black and Olympia Fields.
 
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